In a significant legal development, a Federal High Court in Abuja has handed down a 20-year prison sentence to two of the four individuals accused of kidnapping Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN. The verdict was delivered on October 6, 2023, by Justice Binta Nyako, who presided over the case.
The court found Kelvin Ezeigbe and Frank Azuekor, the 1st and 2nd defendants in the case, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges brought against them. Their sentences will commence from the day of their arrest.
However, in a surprising twist, the judge acquitted Michael Omonigho and Momoh Haruna, the 3rd and 4th defendants, of the charges related to terrorism. Justice Nyako cited their apparent remorsefulness and their ten years spent in custody as factors in her decision to clear them of the charges.
Michael Omonigho, who was allegedly the chief priest involved in the case, was present in court during the judgment. When cautioned by Justice Nyako regarding the open worship held in his shrine, he responded by stating, “I have repented, my lord.”
The judge also ordered that Momoh Haruna, who was at large, be apprehended and brought to court to face charges related to his escape from lawful custody, despite being discharged from the terrorism charges.
The defense lawyer, Bala Dakum, and the prosecution counsel, Chioma Onuegbu, received commendations from the judge for their diligent efforts throughout the trial.
This legal saga dates back to June 9, 2014, when the four defendants—Kelvin Ezeigbe, Frank Azuekor, Michael Omonigho, and Momoh Haruna—were first arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of a Federal High Court. They faced a 13-count charge related to conspiracy, armed robbery, kidnapping, and acts of terrorism.
The charges were brought under Sections 1, 8, and 10 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011. The accused were alleged to have kidnapped Chief Mike Ozekhome on August 23, 2013, and held him captive for approximately three weeks, reportedly releasing him after a ransom of N28 million was paid.
The defendants were also accused of kidnapping Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof. Hope Eghagha, Attanasius Ugbme, and his friend Emmanuel Maka Omorogbe, as well as being responsible for the deaths of five policemen and two prison officials. Additionally, they were alleged to have forced the victims to make significant ransom payments.
This trial was marked by several challenges, including the escape of Momoh Haruna from Kuje Correctional Centre on July 5, 2022, following a terrorist attack.
Despite the complex nature of the case, the court’s verdict has provided a sense of closure and justice for the victims and their families, while also highlighting the importance of thorough legal proceedings in addressing acts of terrorism and violence.